People who are better.

I think I’m pretty self-aware.  I know my weaknesses and I know my strengths.  Being extremely competitive, in order to keep liking myself, I have usually gravitated toward situations where I get to use my strengths and avoid my weaknesses.  I figured this one out when I was pretty small.  It’s an efficient system that creates a maximum number of opportunities for me to look clever and a minimum number of them for me to look like a loser.  Probably most people do this.  I figure it’s why I see all those guys at the gym with gigantic arms and upper bodies doing bicep curls and bench presses when they have skinny little legs that look like they belong to someone else entirely.

Seeing those guys and recognizing what they are doing has led me to discover a flaw in this plan: if you only focus on your strengths and avoid your weaknesses, you never really improve as a complete person.  (Visual aids are always helpful in driving a point home for me.)  So.  I have identified some areas to work on.  One of them is my body.  I’m not aiming for perfection.  Gave that pursuit up long ago as a sure-fire route to depression and self-hatred.   I’m just looking to make peace with it.  I want to be able to do anything I feel like doing without pain or fear of pain.

Now the thing with a goal is that it helps to have inspiration.  My ambitions aren’t what you’d call herculean, so you’d think that other people who have met my goals would be plentiful (yes they are) and I could use them as inspiration.  Unfortunately, it would seem not.  It turns out I’m not inspired by people who are merely better than me.  In all honestly, it’s not much of a feat, really.  Even though I’m not aiming at perfection myself, perfection (or something like it) is what it takes to inspire me.  I think my reasoning is that if potential exists for someone else to be perfect, then with enough work, I should be able to manage “ok.”  But perfection, my friends, is not something you come across very often.

Two nights ago though, I found it.

On Saturday night, I went to Cirque du Soleil’s new travelling show Kooza.  (It was fantastic.  See it if you have the opportunity.)  The clowns are fun, the showmanship is top-notch, but it is the acrobatics that are absolutely stunning.  These are performers, yes, but first they are athletes, and perfectly sharpened ones at that.

Now, in regards to any kind of athletic endeavour, I have always accepted that anyone over four years old will be better than me.  But the people at this show are on a whole other level.  Because not only are they better than me, I’m pretty sure they’re better than everyone else too.  I get that these are professionals, but I don’t think that’s enough to explain what they do.  I think about the things I saw and I have trouble believing that these people belong to my species.

But apparently they do.  Here is inspiration if ever it will exist.

If these people are human, then it means the other 99% of us out there aren’t even close to allowing our bodies to achieve their full potential.  Because it would seem we can do a lot more than we think we can.  (I’ve heard this said about brains as well, actually.)

The media spends a lot of print space on fitness, which sounds good in theory.  People being fit is good: it lets them have healthier lives and keeps down the cost of healthcare.  Win-win.  But most of that print space is focussed on the concept of the body beautiful.  How to get thinner thighs.  How to get flatter abs.  How to get toned (but not too toned, of course, because that’s unfeminine) biceps.  How to be skinny.  On the surface, that’s all very nice and everything — of course everybody wants all that — but the evil dark side of it is that what you are really being sold on is the idea that you’re not good enough.  This is a very effective way to sell things, because once you have been convinced of it, you will buy almost anything that promises to fix whatever is “wrong with you.”  But just because something is an effective sales technique does not mean it is a nice way to operate.  Trust me; I used to work in timeshare.  (Wow.  Innately hilarious sentence if ever there was one.)

There’s also a comparatively small percentage of articles that look at fitness as a health issue, which is obviously a significant improvement.

Very little, however, seems to get written on fitness as a means to being able to do stuff.  (And you know I’m enthusiastic about doing stuff.)  I’m not saying those Cirque folks and their fabulous tricks are what we should be aiming for.  While I know they work tirelessly to reach that level, I do think there must be a certain amount of innate ability there too, and most of us — definitely me, anyway — even given limitless time to train, wouldn’t get there.  As well, there probably aren’t a huge lot of practical applications for being able to support yourself upside down with one arm while balanced on twenty stacked chairs.

But there are a lot of practical and/or cool things that being fit can help you do.  I think it might be reassuring to know that if I had to, I could out-run someone chasing me or haul myself over a fence.  There are probably times when it would be handy to be able to run up twenty flights of stairs without breaking a sweat.  Or to be able to kick down a door.  Hey, it’d even be fun to just play a sport and have a chance of winning that doesn’t rely on the injury of another player.

I tend to treat my body as though it were made of glass.  I have hurt myself many times — sometimes badly — doing things that other people would not hurt themselves doing.  (For example, walking.)  As a result I am probably a lot more cautious than I need to be.  Because my body — surprisingly enough — isn’t made of glass.  Remarkably, it’s made of the same collection of muscles and bones and organs as the people in Cirque du Soleil.  So I can probably do better.  Not better than them.  I’m happy to let them keep that prize.  But better than I have been.  And hey, maybe even better than a five-year old!

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